The real beauty of Polly Walker is in the way she plays her lines


On the day that her new film, "Enchanted April," opened in New York and her performance was hailed as "scene-stealing" and "mesmerizing" in The New York Times, Polly Walker sits in a Manhattan restaurant, calmly eating an apple tart.

The 26-year-old English actress says she was "flattered" by the review, but it soon becomes apparent that she hadn't actually bothered to read it until urged to do so.

Slightly abashed, she explains, "I took the paper down to breakfast. I read about the plane crash and the Olympics, and it didn't occur to me to look at the reviews. I forgot that I'd made a film. I forgot that I'm an actress."

"Enchanted April," directed by Mike Newell and based on a 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, tells the story of four very different but desperately unhappy Englishwomen who find joy and love and themselves while on a monthlong vacation in Italy.

Ms. Walker plays Lady Caroline, an aristocrat bored by her own easy popularity. She is a relative unknown in a cast that includes two of England's more prominent actresses, Joan Plowright and Miranda Richardson, and one of its most well-known comedians, Josie Lawrence.

The young actress can also be seen in "Patriot Games," in which she plays a rather memorable IRA terrorist who, wearing a black bra and garter belt, assassinates a man with whom she is making love.

Ms. Walker was born in Warrington, a small town in Cheshire, into what she calls "an ordinary middle-class family." As a child, she was trained as a dancer ("Although I'd never really wanted to dance," she says, "I just got lost in it"), but she had to "rethink" her life when she was injured at age 18.

After spending time in a convent in France "to brush up on my French," she enrolled at London's Drama Center, "the only Stanislavsky school of any repute in Britain. I was terribly naive -- I didn't even know who Stanislavsky was, and then I got there and found out I was at a terribly severe Method school. But I think it was best for me; I think I would have gone on to make commercials otherwise."

Instead, after graduation, she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, spending only six months there before going on to more theater and small BBC parts.

Mr. Newell -- whose acclaimed 1985 film, "Dance With a Stranger," made Miranda Richardson a star -- says he had never seen Ms. Walker's work. He chose her, he says, because "She was knock-dead beautiful, but in a very distinctive way. I hadn't seen anybody quite like that before. But aside from that, she had a sort of wide-eyedness, as if she were fresh into the world. And she understood the character right from the beginning."

Beauty, of course, can be a double-edged sword. Ms. Walker says, "I'd rather be called that than be called squashed %o cabbage, but I'd much rather hear about the acting. If I'm just required to play someone's bimbo girlfriend -- I can't do that."

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